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19 November 2020

A Wall of Colour

Regardless of how big or small the scale of a home decorating or renovation project, there is usually a well-intentioned rationale behind selecting paint colours. Whether agreeing on a single colour for one room, the full interior, or the exterior the decision-making process can be both challenging and exciting.


Paint it white, paint it blue, paint it pink, green or cream – if only it were that simple. With innumerable shades of white to choose from, and multitudes of shades of every other colour under the sun, it is no wonder, with any home decorating project, we are faced with the sometimes difficult process of selecting the right colours.

Several questions arise. If we choose white, what white is best? What colours are most appropriate for exterior walls and should interior walls be painted the same colour throughout? Or should living rooms, bedrooms and service areas be painted different colours? What fabrics, wall coverings, or floor coverings work best? And, once the renovation is complete, will everything tie in together to create the harmonious or dramatic result we were aiming for?

As interior and exterior paint products have improved, the choice of paint finishes has expanded - so too has the range of colours. Likewise, as window, wall and flooring coverings have evolved, the options available are more extensive. It could be said that too much choice has become a modern dilemma. This certainly was not the case for our forebears.

In New Zealand as far back as the early 1800s through to early Victorian times (circa 1840s to 1870s), native timbers were felled to build square-fronted and bay villas with return verandas. More than 150 years on they still make up much of what are now our inner-city urban areas. And both styles of villa remain just as much a fixture in small town New Zealand.

During this Victorian era, colour schemes, fabrics and wall covering options were somewhat limited. Buildings were painted using lead-based paints available in colours such as rich ochres, umbers, creams and yellows. By the late 1800s the tonal values of this colour palate deepened, with olive greens and dark reds appearing, particularly for doors and window surrounds. Lead was banned in most paints by the late 1970s.

Interiors were rather sombre affairs. Most 1800s homes were without electricity. Lighting was dim and relied on candles or kerosene lamps. In addition, even with daylight filtering through the double hung windows, it is easy to see how the old-fashioned blues, browns, tans, olive green, and terracotta used on indoor surfaces did little to brighten the interiors.

Kitchens did not fare much better. Kitchen walls were lined with simple, wooden tongue and groove or match lining and kitchen cabinetry was very basic. A standard mid green and cream was a typical colour scheme used in kitchens during the 1800s and early 1900s and this colour scheme remained widely used up until as recently as the 1940s and 1950s.

Throughout the early Edwardian years, architectural styles and colour schemes remained relatively unchanged until the early 1920s with the introduction of the Californian bungalow. This sparked the transitional period where new homes being built were known as transitional villas – they retained some traditional villa characteristics mixed with features of the emerging bungalow style.

The use of paler whites and creams teamed up with dark greens, reds or black for the gables and bay window trims became the order of the day. Geometrical patterned stained glass windows, typically designed in various combinations of red, pink, yellow and green were popular as features in villa verandas and front doors. Leadlight windows added a sense of interest to bungalow bay windows.

The 1930s saw ground-breaking changes in architecture. Art Deco-style homes with their linear lines and geometrical decoration added another dimension to the face of cities and towns across New Zealand. The Art Deco period saw lighter and brighter interiors, with colours such as pinks, mint greens, beige and light ochres teamed up with silver, black and chrome.

In New Zealand there was a growing desire for simpler styles of home which meant the villa and to some extent the bungalow, began to lose popularity by the 1960s. Despite the hardy native timbers from which they were built, many became dilapidated and, in the cities particularly, many had become nothing more than shabby rentals.

But just like fashion, architectural styles regain popularity and by the 1980s a renaissance began with many villas undergoing renovations. Although renovations were generally quite modest, they triggered a renewed love for traditional villas and bungalows and a revitalisation that would escalate over the next three decades.

2019, and revitalisation remains in full swing. Renovations are carefully designed to retain the original villa features, while revolutionary overhauls of bathrooms and redesigns of kitchen and dining areas form open-plan living and bring these villas in line with modern lifestyles.

And with modern lifestyles comes the modern dilemma – the abundance of choice. Again, we raise the questions – what colour is best for the exterior, do we paint the interior walls, or is it now considered cool to use wallpaper? Should we play safe and go with neutral shades or step out and go with strong colours and bold patterns?

To get answers to some of these questions and to gain a better understanding around new paint finishes and environmentally friendly products, I caught up with Sarah Geha of the Australian owned company Porter’s Paints.

Porter’s Paints has a delightful history. In 1982, when Sydney house painter Peter Lewis discovered the diaries of his late grandfather Fred Porter, he found recipes for traditional paints that Fred had collected during his trips through Europe. Peter decided to hand-produce improved versions of these recipes which now form the foundation of the Porter’s Paints range.

Porter’s Paints has several New Zealand distribution centres, one of which is located on New North Road in Kingsland. In addition to the range of handmade paints, the company has a selection of specialty finishes, wooden flooring and a premium range of wallpapers.

Viewing small colour swatches on a printed colour chart – or particularly on a computer screen – will never give you an accurate representation which is why Porters Paints have created hand-painted samples in their fan decks. I asked Sarah her thoughts on use of bold colour versus neutrals in smaller rooms and larger spaces, and how to deal with whites – possibly the most agonised over colour.

Sarah advises, “Choosing colours comes down to personal taste. The style of the space and the light available should all influence the perfect white paint selection. The lighting in every space is unique and will impact the way a paint colour reads. It is important to determine if your space has loads of natural light or little natural light and what sort of mood you’re trying to achieve. This will help guide your selection.”

She adds, “It’s always best to test. We recommend always sampling the colour on a patch of the wall in the room where the colour will go. Cool whites offer a more contemporary feel and can make a space with lots of natural light appear bright and alive; the warmth of the natural light will be absorbed. If a cool white is used in a space with minimal natural light, it can appear cold and dull.

“A warm white will soften the mood in a space with limited light and offer a more traditional aesthetic. A warm white used in a space drenched with natural light can appear too ‘yellow’ so we would advise against this.” She adds, “Our most popular cool whites include Popcorn, Ashen and Lamb’s Wool. For a warm white try Porter’s Milk or Old Church White.”

Unlike the rich ochres, umbers, creams and yellows, olive greens and dark reds of the 1800s, various shades of white, soft creams and light greys are now widely used on villa exteriors in New Zealand, and for very good reason. White or lighter colours reflect heat, they weather better and last longer. Dark colours absorb and attract the heat and therefore have been known to deteriorate faster.

White or soft creams and light greys help provide a freshness to outdoor living spaces and just as a clean white canvas sets the stage for an artist to create, the lighter colours used on exteriors create a beautiful backdrop for garden foliage and outdoor furniture.

Whilst the lighter colours remain popular for exteriors, it seems with interiors we may have come full circle. Just as homes in the 1800s used musty blues, browns, tans, olive green and terracotta on interior surfaces, these deep, rich colours have made a comeback but with a modern take on the colour palate.

Through improved product, better use of light, and open-plan living spaces, these colours work and offer any living space a cosy, moody feel. And when any one of these deep rich colours is applied to create a feature wall it adds an element of interest and excitement to a room – the wall of colour becomes the focal point.

Sarah says, “When it comes to colour, at Porter’s we don’t discriminate. We encourage being original in your approach. Always choose a hue that resonates with you, be it bold or neutral, or a small room or a larger space.

“We think the biggest trend in paint is confidence. We’re finding that customers are less afraid of colour and textures and are using dark and deep colours such as Affogato and Long Island Grey. Bold colours can work beautifully in a small space and shouldn’t be limited to use in a larger room.”

She adds, “When selecting a colour to use behind an artwork, you will need to consider the mood of the art and colours used in the art or artworks. The background colour should complement and make the artwork sing. White and neutrals will work – however, won’t always be the best option. Often a dark charcoal or a deep blue will accent artwork beautifully. Always use a matte finish such as Porter’s Eggshell Acrylic.

“Trends and tastes are constantly evolving,” says Sarah. “Updating the colour in a room can be one of the simplest ways to breathe life into a space. If it’s a complete renovation, we suggest selecting the wall colours after you’ve chosen your window and floor coverings which aren’t as easily updated.”

The 1800s was a period that saw the evolution of wallpaper with production in Europe at its height. Up until the mid-1900s, wallpaper was used widely as an interior wallcovering. However, by the 1980s, it had slipped out of favour to become a distant second to painted walls. Only recently have we seen a revival of beautiful, patterned, designer wallpapers. They make stunning feature walls when accented with modern paint colours and paint finishes.

Sarah says, “Porter’s retails a wide array of international leading luxury wallpaper brands including Missoni, Martyn Lawrence Bullard, Cole & Son, Osborne & Little, and many more. We also have our own range of beautiful Grasscloth wallpapers, crafted using natural materials, available in a large selection of neutrals and blues.

“A new addition to the Porter’s Paint range is the Smooth Impasto matt interior paint. Whilst the highly matt Impasto range has a velvety soft finish, it is also characterised by the subtle but harmoniously visible brush marks creating an appealing show effect. It is the matt finish and acceptance of pigment that gives the intensity of colour saturation which allows the creation of sumptuous moody interior.”

She adds, “Each of the 44 colours which can be custom tinted has been carefully crafted to provide truly original colours from warm terracotta, burnished reds, smoky, cool and muted blue-greys, regal purples and decadent blue-greens – all give walls a sophisticated, natural finish and create a beautiful background for fabric, leather and other interior design elements.”

There is no doubt that, unlike the days of old, with modern-day decorating projects the options are almost limitless. Whether you want to achieve a bold, bright and colourful statement, accomplish a cosy space with deeper colours or complete a monochromatic and neutrally understated look, be original in your approach and choose your colour, or your white, with confidence.


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